Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Not So Easy Sunday

Stop the world
Turn off the sun
I'm so tired of it turning round.
Stop the world
Call it a day...
Leave it all behind, leave it that way.
is just a word.
It's just a word.

Growing up, I don't think I fully comprehended just how lucky I was to live, go to school, forge friendships, dance, sing and just be in Howard County, Maryland. This has been a looping thought in my brain over the course of the past year, starting with the pack up of the Furrow Avenue house and tearful farewell to our family life as I had known it for almost 50 years.

Furrow Avenue in the snowy winter, 1995

I've never been particularly good with accepting transitions. When I arrived at Hood for my senior year, I can still remember saying to my friend Maria as she watched me stare at my unpacked suitcases and bags, "if I don't unpack, the year won't start and it won't end."  She knew that I was not able to apply logic in that moment. It was pure emotion, and rather than talk me out of the feeling, she encouraged me to join in with our Hood sisters and participate 100% in the activities in front of us and those just beyond our field of vision. 

The changes that life thrusts us into can be exciting and joyous. There have been many for me, including the rescue and adoption of three of my beautiful kitties. Actually, all 5 arrived in some sort of unexpected manner, introduced a level of confusion into my existing routine and have helped me bring forward the better parts of myself. And sometimes, the change is downright discouraging. Example: the despair of unexpected job loss, which I did experience in late 2008.

The journey out of that unsettling phase was nothing short of transformative. Surrender and acceptance of a new reality have allowed me to blaze a new path, one that doesn't have much definition but certainly offers more opportunity (spiritually and intellectually) than the limits of my previous career paradigm.

All of this is a preamble to say that sometimes change is good, and sometimes it just sucks.

The confluence of events this summer have tested my personal limits and I can no longer contain the successive swirl of sadness and grief. Deaths of two contemporaries, both of them brothers of dear friends of mine tragically unfolded within the span of 8 days. Other friends have experienced the sting of losing a parent. I have found myself going to the well too often these past few months, and each time my residual pain surfaces but doesn't fully abate. 

And then, yesterday. Aristotle was killed by a car.

Ari was a rescue cat from Queens, and I asked my parents in 2011 if they would adopt him, because he really needed a loving home and I was still trying to place Bessie, Lulu and Joey (the kitten) at the time. They agreed and Ari moved to Ellicott City. He had no idea just how lucky he was to be saved from the mean urban streets and whisked to a house in the suburbs. This upset life for my darling Chaucer, who never adjusted to Ari's presence. Yet he was a good companion for my mom, and made Chaucer's passing in 2012 a little softer by being there to purr and snuggle. 
Aristotle, in 2011 on the streets in Queens, New York

My parent's move to Pittsburgh was quite upsetting for Aristotle, in that he had to witness the packing up of the Furrow Avenue house. He didn't seem to be too stressed by it until large pieces of furniture disappeared. The day the movers came and packed the van, he cried and ran around the nearly empty house in utter desperation. It was the guttural howl of the feral, one I'm familiar with only from Bessie's initial rescue (which separated her from her babies for 24 hours).  The next day he traveled to PA to board for several weeks until my parent's new house was ready. He had a hard time adjusting to his temporary surroundings, with daily visitations from Mom and Dad bringing him some comfort and much needed companionship. On the day of settlement, I went to pick him up and bring him to his new forever home, after the movers were gone and furniture was in place. He protested the entire 45 minute car ride. We arrived at the house while Mom and Dad were out getting dinner. I opened his crate, let him run around and he silently checked out everything. He was overjoyed when my parents walked in and greeted him. That night as they were closing down to go to sleep, they called him. Happily, Aristotle jumped on their bed, nestled in and looked at me as if to say everything is all okay now. His favorite blanket, his family. He was truly a sweet and low maintenance cat. He loved my parents and his life. And we all loved him.

I read in Joan Didion's book, The Year of Magical Thinking, a passage about knowing somewhere that she and her husband would age, and eventually die, but her youthful projection of that inevitable time was more like a fading into the horizon together, with the sun setting. This resonated deeply for me, as I think somewhere in the recesses of my mind I must hold a similar image of the passage of time with my parents. Never pictured that we would be geographically far apart. I certainly was not able to foretell that my ability to have any say in their decisions would be superseded by the influence of others. Others who may be operating from a different vantage point that me, and certainly not with the greater good (from my perspective) of our family in mind.

Was it the bucolic surroundings of Howard County, the wonder years of my youth, and the values inculcated in the fiber of my being that blinded me from witnessing the progressive ebb of time? From identifying the slow erosion of the cohesive unit we once were? Little by little, I've felt us floating away from a comfortable norm.

And then the flash of recall-- pleas close to Joey's death, an urgent warning to everyone that the table was going to turn and we were going to lose him. I wanted to change that inevitable consequence . No, I needed to change it: the alternative-- letting it go-- meant that we'd be without him. To this day, I carry the burden of what feels like inertia. Despite his mother and father asking me immediately to release the thought that I could have impacted the life and death course of events by opening the door or answering the phone. I'll never fully reconcile the nagging "what if" question that looms just below the surface, every day. And now, Aristotle. I tried, begged, Please, please don't let the cat out. I've seen cats hit by cars, and it's horrible. Please. Again, my words fell on deaf ears and my nightmare was realized. I can't rationalize it through, "these things happen," or "everyone/every pet dies," because I do believe in both instances, I could have intervened and prevented these outcomes. 

Somewhere in my grief therapy I was offered this pearl of wisdom: "I wish you could see what you did to to extend Joey's life, not what you didn't do." This has helped me, much more than this blog post may reflect. Likely I will need to apply the same to losing Aristotle.

For today, I lament that the story of the rescue kitty from Queens ends so tragically. The bigger challenge now is to settle into this phase, to gain clarity and deal with life as it's being served each day.

To surrender.

Not so easy....if you made it this far, thanks. 

"...some events in life would remain beyond my ability to control or manage them. Some events would just happen.” Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

* The thoughts and emotions presented in this post are those of the author, and are not meant to solicit advice. I thank my good friends who have provided support beyond your contracts. 


  1. I am sorry for your loss(es). I wish there was more I could say or do for you.

    1. Thank you for reading, Edie. It is a post that I needed to write, to help me process everything. The only thing everyone can do is keep their kitties safe. Outside without constant supervision is NOT safe.

  2. We are so sorry, Laura, but grateful that this wonderful blog gives you a forum to share all of this. Know that we care, and that we send purrs, prayers and hugs.

  3. Laura –

    Thankfully I know you don’t expect me to respond to your post with any answers or words of wisdom because sometimes they don’t adequately exist. Some change is for the better, although we might not know it at the time, and other change leaves us in a constant reel of why, regret, bitterness, and sadness.

    I am so sorry to hear the news of Aristotle – I too lost a cat (at the expense of a very close family member) who was watching the cat while I was away for the weekend. I had IMPLORED this person – please do not let me cat out. Rather than heeding my request, she let the cat out thinking it was not a big deal – naturally, the cat was hit and to this day, I still find it hard to accept the reality of the situation.

    I lament the loss of my Harley the same way. What could I have done differently? It was not her time to go, yet there I was at the vet’s office, holding her in my arms, telling the vet through the cloak of my denial and painful screams to let her go.

    My thoughts are with you as you deal with your feelings – I am always there for you if you need me and I also take comfort as I muddle through my own pain, that I know you are out there for me.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I found the part about Aristotle and the move especially touching, because, if you will recall, my Mr. Jazz went through the same feral situation when we renovated our house and it upset his equilibrium so deeply.

  4. Change is not always good. Sometimes it really, really sucks.

    I felt the last thread of my faith being unraveled this Summer with the deaths of M. and F. How could a loving deity allow such tragedy? Even though I was not particularly close to either of them, our former community is a big family. Since moving to the South, I count my blessings every day that I grew up where I did. I am also happy to say that I gave my children a similar sense of community and acceptance of diversity in their upbringing.
    I am sorry about Aristotle. I lost my cat Toby this past February due to kidney disease and I'm still not over it. I don't understand why these terrible things happen and I have a great need to understand and rationalize everything. Sometimes it's best not to think about it too much.
    -Gretchen V.


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